Mark Wallinger

Half-Brother (Exit to Nowhere - Machiavellian)


Not on display

Mark Wallinger born 1959
Oil paint on canvas
Displayed: 2300 × 3000 × 35 mm
Purchased 1995


This is one of four paintings depicting hybrid racehorses which Wallinger made in 1994-5. The paintings are all titled Half Brother with individual subtitles, made up of the names of the two horses from which the halves are taken, in parentheses to distinguish them and share a similar structure. Each consists of two abutting canvases bringing together the two halves of the horse. The horses are painted realistically in thin oil against a white ground. Wallinger derived the horses from photographs in the Jockey Club’s official record of thoroughbred stallions. He projected the photographs onto the large canvases and copied them. In each painting, the horse’s forequarters appear on the left panel and its hindquarters on the right. The bodies’ outlines connect only approximately at the point where the canvases join. Different colouring and variation in build between the horses’ halves result in incongruous blends. In Half Brother (Exit to Nowhere – Machiavellian) the horse’s head and shoulders are an ochre-brown, turning to black on its forelegs. The rear half of its body is a uniform rich, glossy black, broken only by a narrow white band above its left hoof. The painting’s title reflects on the significance of pedigree in horse breeding while the subtitle directs the work towards a particular reading. In racing terminology, ‘half brother’ may only be used for animals sharing the same mother. The words ‘Exit to Nowhere’ suggest that the inbreeding typical to pedigree animals (not only horses) may be ultimately unproductive. The appellation ‘Machiavellian’, evoking the Italian political philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) whose name has become synonymous with deviousness and expediency, hints rather ambiguously at cunning. The other subtitles in the series are Jupiter Island – Precocious (Collection Vanhaerents, Torhout), Diesis - Keen (private collection, Belgium) and Unfuwain – Nashwan (private collection).

Horse-racing and its culture are the subject of much of Wallinger’s work of the early 1990s. He has commented that horse-racing ‘has an extraordinary aesthetic frisson for me which covers everything from the gambling to the magical identification with the animal on which your money rides to the sheer beauty of the thoroughbred’ (quoted in The Turner Prize, [p.10]). An important precursor to the Half Brother series, Race, Class, Sex 1992 (Saatchi Collection, London) consists of four large canvases depicting four life-sized stallions. Each is a direct descendant of ‘Eclipse’, a horse painted by George Stubbs (1724-1806) in the eighteenth century. The work’s title connects horse-flesh with human. Like many of the owners of the hunting horses painted by Stubbs in the eighteenth century, race horses have family trees describing their lineage and pedigrees in detail. Union between horses is the result of calculation planned to maximise particular qualities in the breed and is carefully controlled. Wallinger emphasised the political nature of his interest in racehorses with his photographic Self Portrait as Emily Davison 1993 (collection the artist). Dressed as a jockey in the colours (green, violet and white) of the Suffragette Movement, he stood in front of the race-course at the point where the Suffragette Emily Davison died after throwing herself in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby. In 1994 he extended his interest in the sport to the purchase (through a syndicate) of a yearling filly which he named A Real Work of Art. He explained: ‘In choosing a racehorse as the subject of the piece I am signalling the fact that the thoroughbred is already an aestheticised thing, its whole purpose being to give pleasure to its owners and followers. Here, beyond representation, was the lost object which I could restore in all its fullness and potential by denoting it as a work of art.’ (Quoted in The Turner Prize, [p.10].) Wallinger completed an MA in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College, London in 1985. His use of the notion of controlled breeding or hybridisation to reflect back on the processes of contemporary art recalls the work of Michael-Craig Martin (born 1941), who was teaching on the Fine Art course at Goldsmiths College during the 1980s. In his most famous work, An Oak Tree 1973 (Tate L02262), Craig-Martin used the Catholic rite of transubstantiation as a metaphor for intellectual transformation in conceptual art. This concern with the processes of representation is central to many British artists of Wallinger’s generation.

Further reading:
Mark Wallinger, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham and Serpentine Gallery, London 1995
Mark Wallinger: Credo, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 2000, reproduced (colour) p.63
The Turner Prize 1995, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery, London 1995, [pp.10-11] reproduced (colour) [p.11]

Elizabeth Manchester
February 2003

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed on two similar sized pieces of medium-weight, plain-weave cotton duck canvas, each of which was stretched over a separate expandable stretcher and attached with wire staples at their rears. The stretched face of each canvas was then prepared with a single layer of white acrylic emulsion gesso primer.

The painting was executed in oil colours, principally white, black and browns and mostly used in a slightly diluted form. They were applied to the stretched face of canvas and extend just around the turnover edge, stopping just short of the edge of the white acrylic primer. On the inner edges of each canvas (i.e. where they are joined during display), the paint used for the horse extends further around the tacking edge, well beyond the primer. The browns used for the front end of the horse (i.e. the left canvas) are more of a warmer, red-brown hue, whereas those used for the rear end (i.e. right canvas) appear cooler and more purple in hue. The painting of all areas of the horse was executed with reasonably small brushes and in a very precise manner. The oil paint would have been diluted with a little solvent thinner to give a fluid paint and the overall thickness is uniformly thin (i.e. the canvas texture is clearly apparent through it), although the surface gloss is extremely varied. Much of the application involved a wet-in wet technique, i.e. the paint layers were blended together on the canvas, although in many areas a wet on dry technique was also employed. The artist made wide use of transparent glazes, achieved through the addition of further medium (probably oil), resulting in a much higher gloss in those areas. The painting of the rear end of the horse involved a much wider use of glazing and overall it is subsequently more glossy. The white background is slightly off white and has a very uniform gloss. This paint would not have been thinned as much and was presumably applied with a much larger brush.

The painting is in excellent condition. However, it is very vulnerable to marking on the white background and especially on the bare canvas edges, so precautions must be taken to ensure it is not touched or handled incorrectly. This includes its display behind a barrier. The edges already exhibit a certain number of finger marks, although many are probably the artist's own. For example, the set of brown finger marks visible on the left edge (of the left canvas) is a very similar colour to the brown used for painting the front half of the horse.

Tom Learner
August 2000

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